Cameroon, country lying at the junction of western and central Africa. Its ethnically diverse population is among the most urban in western Africa. The capital is Yaoundé, located in the south-central part of the country.
The country’s name is derived from Rio dos Camarões (“River of Prawns”)—the name given to the Wouri River estuary by Portuguese explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. Camarões was also used to designate the river’s neighbouring mountains. Until the late 19th century, English usage confined the term “the Cameroons” to the mountains, while the estuary was called the Cameroons River or, locally, the Bay. In 1884 the Germans extended the word Kamerun to their entire protectorate, which largely corresponded to the present state.
The western region extends north and west from the Sanaga River and continues north along the Nigerian border as far as the Benue River. The relief is mostly mountainous, the result of a volcanic rift that extends northward from the island of Bioko. Near the coast, the active volcanic Mount Cameroon rises to the highest elevation in western Africa—13,435 feet (4,095 metres).
The rivers of Cameroon form four large drainage systems. In the south the Sanaga, Wouri, Nyong, and Ntem rivers drain into the Atlantic Ocean. The Benue River and its tributary, the Kébi, flow into the Niger River basin of Nigeria. The Logone and Chari rivers—which form part of the eastern border with Chad—drain into Lake Chad, whereas the Dja River joins the Sangha River and flows into the Congo River basin.
The soils of Cameroon may be roughly divided into three groups. The first soil group, developed primarily in the higher-precipitation south and south-center, is composed of soils with strong physical makeup but weaker chemical properties. With good depth, high permeability, and stable structure, these soils are less prone to erosion. They rely on the input of organic matter to replenish nutrient levels; interruption of this cycle leads to swift depletion and a decrease in fertility.
The second soil group is present mainly in the lower-precipitation northern regions. Weathering by water is not as significant a problem for that soil group as mechanical weathering. A lower iron content dictates the soils’ colouring, which ranges from gray to brown. Though more fertile than their counterparts in the south, these soils are susceptible to nutrient imbalances that can impede productivity.
Climate of Cameroon
Lying wholly within the tropics, the country is hot throughout the year; mean annual temperatures range between the low 70s and low 80s F (within the 20s C), although they are lower in areas of high elevation.
The incidence of precipitation depends largely on the seasonal movements of two contrasting air masses. The first is a dry continental tropical air mass, which originates over the Sahara and is associated with hot, dusty weather. The second is a warm and humid maritime tropical air mass that originates over the Atlantic and brings rain-bearing winds. Precipitation decreases from south to north. Along the coast, the rainy season lasts from April to November, and the relatively dry season lasts from December to March; a transition period from March to April is marked by violent winds. The mean annual precipitation level of more than 100 inches (2,500 mm) occurs in about 150 days. In the central plateau region, precipitation decreases to about 60 inches (1,500 mm). There are four seasons—a light rainy season from May to June, a short dry season from July to October, a heavy rainy season from October to November, and a long dry season from December to May. The north, however, has a dry season only from October to May and an average annual precipitation level of about 30 inches (750 mm). The wettest part of the country lies in the western highlands. Debundscha Point on Mount Cameroon has a mean annual precipitation level of more than 400 inches (10,000 mm)—an average rarely attained elsewhere in the world—most of which falls from May to October.
Plant and animal life
The hot and humid south supports dense rainforests in which hardwood evergreen trees—including mahogany, ebony, obeche, dibetu, and sapelli—may grow more than 200 feet (60 metres) tall. There are large numbers of orchids and ferns. Mangroves grow along the coasts and at the mouths of rivers. The rainforest gives way to the semi-deciduous forest of the central region, where a number of tree species shed their leaves during the dry season. North of the semi-deciduous forest, the vegetation is composed of wooded savanna with scattered trees 10 to 60 feet (3 to 18 metres) high. The density of trees decreases toward the Chad basin, where they are sparse and mainly of Acacia species.
The tropical rainforest at elevations between 4,000 and 8,000 feet (1,200 and 2,400 metres) differs from that of the lowlands: the trees are smaller, are of different species, and are festooned with mosses, lichens, and other epiphytes. Above the rainforest zone are drier woodlands, tall grasslands, or patches of mountain bamboo. Above about 7,800 feet (2,400 metres) in the interior and above about 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) on Mount Cameroon, short grasses predominate.